The Bike Federation of Wisconsin has a plan. They understand that like roadways that are crumbling you need to concentrate on ‘rebuilding‘ them. I would categorize this as reseting the movement to concentrate on ‘sustainable‘ growth. Their plan read as follows:
The plan is simple: Local, local, local.
With a hostile state legislature, governor and Congress, the Wisconsin Bike Fed’s Big Idea is to work intensely at the local level, build relationships and momentum and then get local actors to pressure their representatives to do more at higher levels.
The comprehensive local effort is two-pronged. First, assemble a network of Bicycle Friendly Communitiesthroughout the state. The Bike Fed will help communities with bike plans, intervene in local controversies, offer advice on how to engage mayors, business leaders and other local influentials, and share information and best practices among communities. Second, boost membership to 10,000, thereby activating engaged advocates throughout the state.
WISCONSIN BICYCLE FRIENDLY COMMUNITY TIMELINE TARGET
By tapping into the network of people engaged in buliding a more bikeable Wisconsin, and helping create places for them to ride — and encourage others to ride in — the Bike Fed is creating a recipe for advocacy success.
Refocusing Is Essential
In many states, communities grew up in a topsy-turvy manner. And as usual in America, bigger is better. The more houses and streets built the more quickly businesses could enter and start creating wealth for their owners. And that in turn meant that property values climbed and everyone saw this as progress.
The Urban Cycling Movement has been concentrating on a similar strategy. It has been all about the number of miles of lanes that were converted to ‘bike lane‘ status. Never mind how well planned they were the fact was that people assumed that progress could be measured in terms of miles of bicycle infrastructure.
But along comes a somewhat difficult stretch of political terrain and suddenly the prospect is that we can no longer simply count on getting a favorable slice of the ‘trust fund‘. In some ways the movement itself has been placed on a badly needed ‘road diet‘. When you lose sight of your objective and forget that the relationships forged through interactions and yes, dare we say it compromise are the essence of a sustainable movement then things can go off the rail in facing a bit of adversity.
Understanding How We Are Perceived
Nikon has a new advertising campaign out called ‘I am generation image‘. One of the people given a high-end DSLR camera is a self-confessed Urban Cyclist. His introduction reads as follows:
Let’s face it: Cyclists have a serious image problem. But I want to show that cyclists can be responsible. We can help make the streets safer for everyone who uses them, on two wheels, four wheels or none. With my photography, I’m bringing the streets to life so people can understand a cyclist’s perspective.
His reflection says it all. We as a movement have an image problem. It makes all of our arguments about safety and walkability of non-effect. We are in essence the football player who is trying to tell the world about his positive views on feminism but nobody hears what he is saying because they saw that video of him cold-cocking his spouse in an elevator.
Nobody wants to deal with spoiled brats. That is the image we have to overcome and it is a problem of our own making. We have tried and successfully driven a wedge between cyclists and motorists and to a large degree between cyclists and pedestrians. So when money is tight and we start whining about how much better we would feel if this or that infrastructure were created, we are largely shouting a people who have turned off their hearing aids in favor of listening to someone else.
Understanding How We Behave
Make no mistake about it we will be licensed. Of that I am sure. And we have no one to blame for that but ourselves. Our scofflaw behavior is no longer in question. It is a documented reality that cannot be denied. And no one will ever again be cowed by our contention that ‘Cars Kill, Bicycles Don’t‘. We have reached parity with automobiles in a way that is unflattering. No one doubts any more that being hit by one of us when in the crosswalk could result in a fatality.
But there are two issues that we are not yet addressing. First is the issue of BikeShare. We need to embrace it wholeheartedly and wherever possible become card carrying members. Second, we are very remiss in not supporting our own. Bike shops in urban areas are not doing even a 10th as well as the local brew pubs in terms of gaining our business.
Where you put your money reflects your values.
If we ever hope to have a vibrant urban cycling community we need merchants who can service our bikes, and provide clothing and accessories that make riding more pleasurable. And while we may like a cold beer now and then, it might mean reserving some of our ‘beer money‘ for the greater good. That my friend is ‘shared sacrifice‘.
If we plan to ask the non-cycling public to dig deep and provide tax dollars for the benefit of our community then we certainly need to be leading the charge in helping to create a vibrant and sustainable network of entrepreneurs who can keep us going all season long.
We have to find way to help others focus on our needs that are constructive. Placing our neighbors and friends in ‘artificially created traffic jams‘ is counterproductive. Critical Mass Rides need to be rethought in terms of their protocol.
Think Long Term Rather Than Short Term
Our aim should be to build a community that grows exponentially with each passing year. We want to encourage families and especially children to gravitate towards riding their bikes to school or to play rather than hopping into the family car. And that of course means things like Complete Streets.
But we cannot be shortsighted about the difficulties ahead when it comes to garnering funding for these sorts of initiatives. We need to think strategically. Rather than lobbying for 100 miles of bike lanes, why not think in terms of targeted areas where we know the traffic to be gnarly. And then rather than rushing to install lanes there we sit down with the local DOT and acquaint them with our needs.
In fact why not take them on a series of bike trips over an entire year so that they understand what it feels like to ride on a chaotic stretch of road with nothing surrounding you but air. Focus on getting them to understand that first and foremost we need infrastructure that is designed to go someplace. We need infrastructure that is easy to use and is purpose driven. The idea of bicycle superhighways is alluring.
Ask them to think about bicycle infrastructure in the same way that we think about highway development for automobiles. We need places to stop and get food or shelter in bad weather. We need routes that are color coded and have easy access to police stations if needed. We need places to ride when getting to work where there are callboxes in easy reach in case of an emergency. We need excellent lighting.
And we need the infrastructure to be easily maintained year round. So it will take some time for equipment that can handle the more narrow bike lanes to be purchased and brought online. Thus we need patience. We also need the wisdom to be able to help others see our point of view. And even more important we need to learn to see theirs.
Neither pedestrians or motorists are our sworn enemies. Instead we all need to begin to think about and be concerned for one another. This is a new frontier for everyone. Drivers need to be re-educated as to the best ways to accommodate bicycles on the roadway. We likewise need re-education concerning the proper ways to dress to maintain optimum visibility as one of the smallest items on the roadway.
The only thing smaller than a cyclist is a pedestrian. Being visible is not something that you can assume is true. Having to dress for the occasion is not a question of being fashionable or not but is rather a question of staying alive. We need to think more like highway construction workers who are faced with chaotic traffic conditions and are clearly aware of their mortality.
Lights and reflective surfaces are our friends. Being ninjas is something we attempt at our own peril.